Sep 07, 2017

Study identifies key predictors of suicide attempts in Australian veterans of numerous theatres of war and peacekeeping.

A research study conducted by the clinicians at Toowong Private Hospital in collaboration with researchers from the Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation (GMRF) has identified key demographic and psychological predictors of suicide attempts in Australian veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Analysis was undertaken on data provided by 229 ex-service personnel diagnosed with PTSD.   The data included PTSD symptom severity, alcohol use, anger, depression, anxiety and quality of life, in addition to demographic information and self-reported history of suicide attempts.

The results indicated PTSD symptom severity, unemployment or total and permanent incapacity (TPI) pension status significantly predicted suicide attempt history. An individual’s likelihood of attempting suicide increased by 2% per additional point on  a frequency and  intensity symptom rating scale measuring PTSD.

Veterans with PTSD who had a history of a suicide attempt were lower in age on average, with higher rates of anger, anxiety and depression compared to veterans with PTSD who have never attempted suicide.

“Our research revealed that of Australian veterans with PTSD, those with more severe psychopathology, who have served in contemporary conflicts, and  were unemployed or on TPI were significantly more likely to have attempted suicide in the past,” said lead-author of the study, Dr Katelyn Kerr.

Recently published in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, this study will help fill the gap in knowledge of predictors of suicide for Australian veterans.

Dr Madeline Romaniuk, GMRF Veteran Mental Health Initiative Lead Investigator agrees;
“While the link between psychopathology and increased risk of suicide is well established, of particular note is the relationship found between unemployment and suicide attempts.

“While more research is needed to tease out the direction of the findings, the results certainly highlight the importance for early intervention for mental health conditions as well as  prioritising the need for tangible employment options or meaningful goal-directed activities for veterans deemed unable to work.

“Providing veterans with a sense of continued purpose and worth could potentially reduce the risk of suicide,” Dr Romaniuk said.

The issue of suicidality amongst current and previous serving defence personnel is of growing concern in Australia. Current serving Australian Defence Force members had a 3.9% rate of reported suicidal ideation in a 12 month period, more than double that of the general Australian population of 1.7%. The suicide rate among ex-serving male members of the ADF is 13% higher than the general Australian male population.

Involvement in this research study is part of GMRF’s commitment to enhancing the health of Australia’s veteran community. In April this year, the Foundation’s PTSD Initiative completed a world-first research project which examined the long-term physical impact of PTSD.

PTSD affects over one million Australians and has been shown to increase the risk of suicidal ideation.

“At GMRF we believe we owe it to our veterans to address the physical and mental health challenges they continue to face long after their service to our country has ended,” said Miriam Dwyer, CEO of GMRF.

The PTSD Initiative is one of several research projects of GMRF, including research into liver disease, liver cancer, diabetic eye disease and respiratory disease.

If you or a loved one needs assistance or support, help is only a phone call away. Contact the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service on 1800 011 046 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.